Washington — Americans’ net worth slipped in the July-September quarter as a drop in stock prices overwhelmed a solid gain in home values.
U.S. household wealth declined 0.2 percent in the third quarter to $81.3 trillion, the Federal Reserve said Thursday. Americans’ stock and mutual fund portfolios fell $700 billion. The value of their homes increased $245 billion.
The slight drop comes after Americans’ wealth rose to a record in the April-June quarter. A booming stock market and a rebound in home values have enabled the nation’s net worth to rebound from the Great Recession and reach new highs.
Yet the gains have accrued mostly to the wealthiest Americans, who own the vast majority of stocks. Middle-class net worth hasn’t budged in recent years even as stock market indexes have soared.
The Fed’s figures aren’t adjusted for population growth or inflation. Household wealth, or net worth, reflects the value of homes, stocks and other assets minus mortgages, credit cards and other debts.
The net worth figures mirror other economic data that suggest the U.S. economy has improved significantly since the recession. But underneath the headline figures, signs of weakness remain.
During the first quarter of 2009 when the stock market plunged, net worth fell to $54.9 trillion, down from a pre-recession peak of $68.8 trillion.
While U.S. wealth has fully recovered from that drop and has set new highs, the wealth gains have mostly accrued to the richest Americans. The typical U.S. household saw its net worth actually decline 1.2 percent from 2010 to 2013, according to new research published this week.
Edward Wolff, an economics professor at New York University, calculates that the median household’s net worth was just $63,800 in 2013, down from $64,600 in 2010. That decline came after a huge drop from 2007 to 2010, when median net worth plummeted 44 percent from $115,100.
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